At times when you need a light meal or a hearty snack in a hurry, a big platter of nachos can be an easy and agreeable solution. Adding a generous portion of chicken to the standard cheese and vegetable toppings makes the family-friendly dish more meal-like, the sort of thing you can serve on any weeknight without apology. The basic technique is as simple as it is quick.
Settling on a choice of chicken is the starting point for any dish of chicken nachos. If you're a forward thinker or prepare Mexican-style dishes frequently, preparing a whole chicken ahead of time is a good idea. Cover it liberally with your favorite Mexican seasonings, and roast, poach or slow-cook the bird. Once it's done, shred the whole chicken and portion it into meal-sized packages for later use. For an improvised weeknight version, use boneless, skinless breasts and either grill or pan-sear them with Mexican seasonings. Shred the breasts, or cut them into strips before or after cooking. In a pinch, toss leftover chicken or a rotisserie bird with a bit of chili powder.
Arrange your tortilla chips on a pan, if you'll be heating the nachos in the oven, or on a plate if you'll be using your microwave. Layer the chips with your chicken pieces, and other toppings as you see fit. Chopped tomatoes, rings of mild or hot peppers, and cooked black or pinto beans are all options. Alternatively, reserve these for later and use them as garnishes on the finished dish. Sprinkle shredded cheese over each layer, using Monterey Jack, cheddar, or any other cheese that appeals to you. One recipe on the BBC Good Food website, for example, calls for the decidedly non-traditional Red Leicester. Bake the nachos at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or microwave them on High, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
When the finished nachos come out of your oven, you have a second opportunity to add toppings in the form of colorful garnishes. Diced tomatoes or sweet bell peppers add to the nachos' visual appeal, or you might choose to spoon or scatter a fresh-made salsa over the gooey, cheesy chips. Scatter mild or hot pepper rings with a generous hand, or scatter sliced olives. Set out bowls of sour cream, salsa, refried beans or guacamole to accompany the nachos.
Chicken nachos provide an innately quick and simple dish, but there are ways to make it even faster for moments when you're in a real hurry. For example, if the chicken is already warm, you can dispense with the necessity of heating the nachos. Instead, just microwave a jar of salsa con queso and pour it over the chicken-topped tortilla chips. Alternatively, if you don't have an oven or microwave at your disposal, heat the chicken in a skillet with beans, salsa or other toppings. Cover it all with a layer of shredded cheese, then spoon the toppings over individual portions of tortilla chips once the cheese has melted.